By People Staff
November 15, 1999 12:00 PM

RICKY MARTIN ISN’T SOUTH Florida’s only Romeo-in-residence. Alex Penelas, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, has a set of groupies all his own. So frenzied are the 37-year-old politician’s fans that at campaign rallies “he can’t make it to the stage,” says his communications director Juan Mendieta. “Women surround him and tell him, ‘You’re a hunk.’ ” So what if they’re all old enough to be his grandmother? As the leader of the largest metropolitan government in the southeast for the past three years, Penelas has proven so popular—his approval rating hovers in the high 60s—he has even been mentioned in Al Gore’s campaign camp as a potential running mate. “He’s extraordinarily smart,” says Miami political consultant Susan Fried. “When you’re talking to him he looks straight at you and knows his subject.” What’s more, adds his wife, Lilliam, 29, a full-time mom to their sons William, 4, and Christopher, 2, “he has the best smile. When he smiles he just puts you at ease.” That wasn’t always the case. An awkward teen, Penelas, the son of Cuban immigrants, recalls wearing five-inch platform shoes to his junior prom and “having the worst case of buck teeth you would ever see.” But orthodontia transformed him into a swan. And although he insists, “I’m not caught up in how I look every day,” the 5’9″ pol does his share of preening: He takes spinning classes and lifts weights for up to two hours five times a week, favors Valentino suits and admits to having “a couple of facials a year—like everybody else does.” All, of course, for the good of his 2.2 million constituents. “Having a healthy mind and body,” says Penelas, “allows me to deal with everything I have to deal with.”